Kiran Bellubi – 955Dreams 1 of 2

“Be obsessed about your product.” 955 Dreams helps you discover & experience music with their History of Jazz and On The Way To Woodstock iPad apps.

Hi, this is Matthew Wise, founder of We empower entrepreneurs to have a voice, and share their story with the world, enabling others to learn about building products and starting companies. It is with great pleasure that I am here today with Kiran Bellubbi, the founder of, well one of the founders of, which designs incredibly beautiful iPad applications.
Their most recent application is The History of Jazz. So Kiran thanks a lot for being here. Can you give us a brief 60-second bio of yourself for our audience?
Yes, sure, thanks for coming by for us, and so I started this company in November of last year. Before that I’ve been doing mobile apps as well on the iPhone and the iPad since 2009. Before that I was you know working with a company called (unintelligible – 0:01:07.3) and then another startup before that. I have also been lucky to have been part of a project that built India’s first hand-held computer in 2000/2001. And, you know, building mobile devices is a real passion of mine. I love doing that stuff. I love building products that they can carry along in their hands that they touch and interact with in different ways that are not possible on PCs or on your laptops. I really, really get excited about those products and I love building them.
What’s your first application, The History of Jazz? Who is it for, and why are you so passionate about it?
When we started 955Dreams, there were a couple of core, you know, categories that we wanted to address. The first one was music, and the second one was education. DJ and I are really passionate about both these sectors, these categories. When we looked at the music apps out there and the way music was delivered on mobile devices, we found that there was this static nature to them. They were just generally dead and no one was really addressing the core problem of the artist touching the consumer, you know, (unintelligible 0:02:39.3).
So we decided to start a company that would always answer that fundamental question, why are people not buying music again? Why are people not interested in learning, and interacting with an artist in a fundamentally different way, where they learn about the artist, they learn about the music, and then hopefully they purchase the music. So The History of Jazz is the first step, a tiny step in that direction.
When we built this really large, difficult, esoteric art form, jazz, which people get afraid of, you know, it is difficult to talk about jazz with people because you don’t know whether you sound dumb or whether you know you are saying the right thing, or whether they will laugh at you, but we took that medium because we ourselves wanted to learn about it, and the iPad is the perfect medium for it because it allows these audio/visual experiences that can strengthen your learning. Even the learning of such a genre like jazz. So this is the first attempt at it, and I think we have gotten it right in terms of the interaction. There are a lot of design principals, fundamental design principals as well that we employ in all our apps, and we can talk about those as well, and I am sure DJ can chat about that as well.
Excellent. And so in terms of timeframe, when did you conceive the idea and how long did it take you to actually build it and launch?
So I’d been thinking about a way to navigate a chronological timeline, or a sequence of data, sequence of information in an interesting way on an iPad, and I had been thinking about it for some time, but I was building other things. So in 2009/2010 I launched as part of my, part of a different startup, and I founded (unintelligible – 0:04:38.7) Labs. We launched a series of vocabulary building apps, and then did Honeydew, which is App of the Week as well in 2010, and then follow up App of the Week with Mario Batali, the famous chef from Mario Batali Cooks, which was received really well on the app store as well. So at the same time, I’ve just been percolating on this concept, and you know, the iPad would be perfect to navigate this chronological timeline or sequence of events. I was thinking about an application for it. What would I use this for or what would it really help in solving, and jazz was perfect because I had been struggling to learn about Jazz for almost seven, eight years now. I had been reading, picking up books, and then going to iTunes and buying music, or going to other websites and reading about the artist, or going to Wikipedia, and learning about them more or learning about the genres, but it did not quite take. There was this, there was too many distractions: you read, you closed the book, you walked over to your computer, you did something, and that process was filled with distractions. So I never could really learn about jazz as comfortably as one should in 2011.
And so, are there any unique metrics, or stats about 955Dreams you would like to share with our audience?
Um, sure, I mean, stats, see the… we went down the (unintelligible – 0:06:08.6) and tracking everything, and you know measuring users and how much time that they are going to be, you know, little features and stuff like that. But I really think that’s an asinine way of looking at these things, and we’ve stopped doing that now. We tend to let people just shop. And the reason is this: when somebody is interacting with a book, it is like an extremely personal interaction. They are taking it away, and they are sitting down and spending, hopefully, hours with it so the only real metric that is important at this point is how much time the people actually interact with that app.
I mean it’s not as high as Angry Birds, nowhere near, but you know, considering that it is a book, we have upwards of three or four hours of usage a week sometimes. And that is from the upper spectrum, but average usage rates are approximately 24 minutes, and the user retention rates are through the roof. We have a 85% user retention rate for the app, which means they keep coming back to the app. It’s not a traditional coffee table book which you leave on your coffee table, open once, flip through it and then you never go back to it again. People are actually going back to these things to look at new genres, to look at some videos, to browse through new artists that they haven’t heard of before.
And so in the short time that you have been in operation, what have you learned about your visits or users that you didn’t know before?
I think one very important thing that we have learned is that the baby boomer demographic on the iPad is an extremely interesting demographic. They have disposable income, they are willing to pay for highly curated, beautiful visual experiences that are delivered through the iPad and that add some value to their lives. They are not interested in the dot com pricing 99 cent or free mentality. They are used to paying for music, that’s a very important distinction, they have never stolen music before. So it is important that when we launched our iPad app we continue to be focused on that demographic.
And of course, there is a lot that a young audience can gain from the app, but I will bank the app on an older demographic, you know, the app has become a lot easier to use for everybody, not just for the baby boomers.
And so, what talents or skills come easy to you in terms of founding 955Dreams? What are you intuitively good at and what comes hard for you, and how do you manage that?
I mean, it has been a real process, I can tell you that, in a sense then I was lucky earlier in my career when I got to work with people who were building this unique device called a Simputer, the simple, multilingual people’s computer. Well, there was a fundamental technical problem that we were trying to solve, but essentially the goal was to give access to semiliterate and illiterate users in tribal India, you know, give them the ability to interact with technology.
So one very simple thing that I bring to the table, I always try to think of, you know, what is it that… what is the fundamental nature of what you are doing that really helps people? And if you start a company with that in mind, I mean (unintelligible – 0:09:57.4) I know everybody says this, and it is probably in a business plan, but forgetting about the business plan per se, and just understanding how you are making life slightly better, incrementally better.
Not only does it mean that you can charge money for your product, but it makes it interesting for everybody to come into work every day. There are two very interesting little tips. One is that, you know, your business is profitable and you’re generating cash, which is great, and the second thing is that your employees are happy, the people that you work with, you yourself are happy. I mean, personally I would not be happy building an ad network because that to me is just quantified success, or you know, professional success in any way.
But if I build products that people engage with, and that they sit down and they replace with a book, you know to me that is a bigger statement. I am an intense person, and I care about the products that I build, and everything else is secondary. So the products that we as a company release, you know they touch people and they really change five minutes, ten minutes, hopefully 30 minutes in your life a week, and those experiences are positive experiences. That is all that I keep talking about, really.
And so, you know, what bit of information or advice do you wish you would have known before you started 955Dreams?
Well, I mean, I had heard a lot about you know how awful the music industry really is. You know, that it is filled with lawyers; it’s got all this red tape and these problems. Artists are kind of subdued, and they are taken advantage of, and you hear these sound bites, but you can never really understand or comprehend the level or the extent to which it’s really fact until you are in it.
But despite all the problems, you know, we feel there is this need in the industry. People are literally losing their jobs in that industry. They have no livelihood, many of them are just, you know, there is no industry left to go to. They are given a pink slip and that’s it. Why? Because record sales are just not happening anymore. So you know we understand all of the issues, but we definitely also see the opportunity, that we can connect an artist and a consumer. You can pick the artist that you want to work with very carefully, especially in our business.
And what we plan to do is fundamentally change all the experience that a consumer has with an artist, and you know we are literally in the background. We don’t want people to… I mean, people, if they associate with the brand 955Dreams that would be great and we want that, but we want the artist to come through. An app literally needs to scream the artist, it needs, but in a very subtle, polished, you know, way that allows the consumer to connect, and then after that the subsequent thing that we want to happen is the sale of the record.
And if through that, if we can make that happen, that would be great. Now, how do we do that quickly? How do we do that efficiently? How do we scale that? Those are the questions that are left to be answered, and if somebody had told me six months ago, instead of doing The History of Jazz, do something with, you know, Eric Clapton, and here is Eric Clapton, then maybe that would have changed the nature of our business entirely. You know, right now, we are a platform looking for artists. So it’s a chicken and egg kind of paradox, I guess.

  • Aneesh Prabhu

    Kiran , good to see you flying and also saw you featured on Entrepreneur Magazine! Keep up the good work mate! 


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